On 26 March and enduring temperatures of some 500 degrees Celsius from within the orbit of planet Mercury, Solar Orbiter returned spectacular imagery of the Sun during its first close encounter with our home star. Detailed new movies show activity in the solar atmosphere and reveal a variety of features, including something scientists are nicknaming ‘the hedgehog’ with spikes of hot gas reaching out in all directions.
Solar Orbiter’s ten science instruments are now all working together for the first time. Some are looking at the Sun while others are simultaneously measuring the environment around the spacecraft, enabling scientists to join the dots from what they see happening at the Sun, to what Solar Orbiter ‘feels’ at its location in the solar wind millions of kilometres away. In the weeks around the close approach Solar Orbiter also observed several flares and even a coronal mass ejection, providing a taste of space weather forecasting at Earth.
Scientists across Europe – and ESA’s partners around the world – are now working to interpret the vast amount of information Solar Orbiter is sending back that promises to transform our understanding of our nearest star.
Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA.
This report includes interviews with:
– David Berghmans, EUI Principal Investigator
– Daniel Müller, Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, ESA
– Anik De Groof, Instrument Operations Scientist, ESA